My experience of low self-esteem stemmed from feeling as though I didn’t have permission to be cool.
Now, cool is most definitely a subjective term, and it’s rare these days to see someone who is universally loved or universally loathed. In fact, the only person who I can think of who is almost unanimously revered as the world’s best boy would be Sir David Attenborough. Don’t fight me on this.
But let’s take a look at what my definition of cool was; was because I don’t really think in terms of ‘cool’ anymore. A deep immersion in marketing has, along with many other things, taught me some valuable things about the concept of worth, and that includes self-worth. When you start to see the world as a collection of niches, all of which have their own different standards of what is valuable and what is important, the question of whether or not something is ‘cool’ suddenly lacks enough nuance to be of any real use.
My definition of cool was something along the lines of ‘I see people in my sphere who are commonly regarded by others in that same sphere as being admirable and desirable.’ It’s easy to see where the permission part comes in; in my definition, the coolness of a person was contingent on a third party appraisal that needed to be bestowed. You couldn’t be cool without it — you weren’t allowed. Somebody couldn’t just start being cool off their own back, that didn’t count. If somebody did break this sacred rule, they’d probably get met with a ‘lol what do u think ur doing know ur place idiot.’
So here you have a pretty potent recipe for poor self-esteem: negative upward comparisons mixed with a pervading sense of there being a consensus about status in a given social group. Basically, I was comparing myself to the people who were being admired by the people I myself wanted to be admired by (mostly girls I had a crush on, sometimes friends who felt I didn’t matter all that much to), and tying myself in knots about the verdict.
To me, this was realistic thinking: there was no point convincing myself of anything otherwise, because my brain was so convinced that this definition of ‘worthiness’, or ‘coolness’, or ‘[positive adjective]’, was true, that to suggest otherwise would be a departure from reality that it simply couldn’t handle.
Now, most people’s solutions to feeling inferior to the people they’re surrounded by is to just get new people. You see this all the time when someone goes to uni and reinvents themselves: they finally have an opportunity to break free of the mould that has calcified around them probably since primary school. All preconceptions of who that person is go out the window, as they immerse themselves in a completely new environment and build themselves afresh from the bricks and mortar of countless fresh impressions.
Not this idiot. I instead decided to venture deeper into the jungle, in a bid to find the Holy McGuffin of social acceptance. I stayed entrenched in the root of my negativity, because to me it was unfinished business. I couldn’t just walk away. I HAD to get permission. I HAD to make them like me.
What’s funny is there’s no way of knowing whether or not I ever succeeded. I bounced from social group to social group, chasing this illusion of permission, no doubt pissing off each group I left in the process. I was probably actually making life worse for myself by trying to get accepted by groups that have a high propensity to exclude (which I talked about in this post), and even if I had achieved this elusive goal, would it ever have been enough? Would it ever have satisfied my insecurity, or would it have just stoked the flame further, and made me push for the next burn?
I only realised how damaging this mentality was when I finally forced myself out of the environment I’d been lost in for nearly two decades, and it was like a veil had been lifted. I’d been seeing the world through such a cynical, bleak lens that it took me a while for my vision to adjust. But when it did, it felt like I was finally seeing the world properly.
The thing is, no one will ever give you permission to be okay in your own skin. No one can give you that permission. You have to do it yourself, and if that feels like cheating—because you feel that self-esteem is bestowed externally—then take a second to really examine the word self-esteem. Self-esteem. There’s the source.
Have a bloody lovely day.
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About the curator - Matt Jenko
Hi my name is Matt, but my friends call me Matt. I’m on the wrong side of 29 (damn I hate it every time I have to update that number), definitely feeling my age, but never felt happier and more content than I do at this point in my life. I’ve been through some rocky patches (who hasn’t) and lived to tell the tale, and boy do I gots some stories.
When I’m not giving opinions absolutely nobody asked for, I’m doing a worldbuilding with my passion project, vivaellipsis. If you like offbeat nonsense delivered through immersive escapism, then go and get involved. Or don’t, I’m not telling you what to do. I’m not yer boss.
I’m a simple man with simple interests. I like Yorkshire tea, the sound of rain on the window, and a bloody good story.
9 August 2021
What today’s insight has granted me is the knowledge that if you don’t check in on yourself, you’ll lose touch with yourself. You’ll become unfamiliar with each other, and it feels very strange. I honestly think this is what it means to feel out of sorts.
27 May 2021
The cinematic score to your psychological journey with Matt Jenko. Featuring artists like: Bonobo • Yotto • Emancipator • CamelPhat • ODESZA • Carpenter Brut • Tinlicker • Four Tet • Jacques Greene • Tchami • RÜFÜS DU SOL